Alec Thomas

RFID bag tags will ensure it.

Nikki Ekstein
May 05, 2016

Thanks to newly integrated RFID technology, the carrier is promising you’ll get your bags every time you fly, no matter what.

According to the most recent set of data from the Department of Transportation, there are more than 118,000 baggage-related incidents each month among domestic carriers. Though it sounds like a high number, it represents a significant year-over-year decline—in 2015, there were 3.64 reports per thousand passengers compared to 2.64 reports per thousand passengers today.

Delta has been among the most improved airlines, and now, it’s taking strides this week to reduce its baggage incidence to nil. After a months-long pilot test in Baltimore and Las Vegas, the airline is introducing RFID-embedded paper bag tags that will interact with sensors along a bag’s journey through the airport; they’ll track the bag at each stage of handling, ultimately ensuring that luggage makes it safely into the hands of its owner at the correct destination.

Unlike similar programs by international carriers like Qantas and British Airways, which rolled out to priority members first or required special bag tags, Delta’s new RFID program is open to all passengers. Those who check their bags at the airport will automatically receive an RFID-embedded paper tag—one that looks just like the old bar codes but has the enhanced tech built right in. They can personally track their bags on the free Delta app, which is available on Android, iOS, and Windows phones. All of this is slated to be deployed worldwide by the end of August.

Aside from Alaska Airlines, Delta is the first domestic carrier to put such a program in place. They’re certainly first to implement RFID on this kind of global scale—the project includes a $50 million investment covering 344 airports, 4,600 scanners, 3,800 RFID bag tag printers, and more.

But they won’t be the last. Reducing lost bags has become a legal concern for airlines more than anything else, thanks to a piece of legislation by the International Air Transport Association. According to the ruling, airlines must be able to track bags from airport counter to airplane to baggage claim by June 2018. So bag tracking isn’t just a tech trend, it’s an industry mandate.

Up next for the luggage handling industry? Do-it-yourself bag drop services that automation to the next level. Late last year, a system debuted in Australia and New Zealand allowing Air New Zealand customers to drop off their own checked luggage. Passengers’ identities and boarding passes are verified biometrically with fingerprint readers and face-detecting cameras at a drop-off station, where bags can be weighed and sent along to baggage handling without so much as a single person-to-person interaction.

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